KHALIL SALEEBY, Lebanon (1870 - 1928)
Written by Rami Karim
Khalil Saleeby was born in 1870 in Btalloun, a village in the Aley District of Mount Lebanon. The son of landowning Greek Orthodox peasants, he began drawing as a child, at first using matchstick heads as “pencils” before progressing to charcoal and ink.
A teenage Saleeby left his village for Beirut in 1881 to study at Protestant missionary schools, and in 1886 enrolled at the Syrian Protestant College (later the American University of Beirut). Saleeby excelled and impressed his professors in this foundational phase. With their support, he moved to Edinburgh in 1890 to study with John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), an American expatriate artist and master portraitist. Sargent encouraged Saleeby to continue his education in Philadelphia, where the young artist met and soon married the American Carrie Aude, his lifelong lover, and muse. After Saleeby exhibited in Chicago, the newlyweds lived in Edinburgh, Paris, and London before settling in Beirut in 1900.
Saleeby’s training and general time abroad heavily influenced his painting style. While in Paris, he trained under the symbolist painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. He also met Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), one of the few Impressionists invested in portraiture, and drew inspiration from his work as well. Though Renoir made portraits to fund his Impressionist experiments, Saleeby defined his practice by merging the genres. He broke from formal parameters in service to his own interiority, the basis of a profoundly personal aesthetic witnessed in Portrait of Carrie Aude (1916), which shows the artist’s wife against a backdrop of thick red, green, yellow and turquoise accents. Aude’s portrait is exceptional for its raised brushstrokes and reflection of dynamic, multicolored light across her blushed face and white collar.
Saleeby extended this technique to his collection of nude figure paintings, which challenged deeply entrenched cultural beliefs in their insistence on the artistic merit of the naked body. Though it may seem to the contemporary viewer that Saleeby was practicing his trade, these images caused controversy in Lebanon and the surrounding region, ultimately pushing cultural as well as artistic norms past their limits. More than mere experimentation, his Impressionist technique lent his portraiture and figure paintings a layer of emotional realism, breathing new life into otherwise static genres. Saleeby’s work exemplifies how personal relations can be represented in asocial portraiture; there is palpable emotional weight in his depiction of humans, especially his beloved wife. Saleeby also excelled in painting other subjects, perhaps most seen in Heliopolis Palace, Cairo (1914), which he framed from an unusual corner vantage point.
Upon returning to Beirut, Saleeby opened an atelier on Bliss Street, adjacent to his alma mater. There, he taught the likes of César Gemayel and Omar Onsi, both of whom would become canonical figures in the history of modern Lebanese art. Saleeby and Aude lived in a house in Beirut’s Al Kantari district and built a second home in his native Btalloun. Their lives ended tragically in 1928 at the hands of a gang of village men responding to a conflict over rights to a water source. Saleeby’s thriving legacy has established him as a seminal figure of Arab art and a foundational Lebanese modernist.
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Khalil Saleeby (1870-1928), American University of Beirut Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon
Art from Lebanon, Beirut Exhibition Center, Beirut, Lebanon
Le Corps découvert, Insitut du Monde Arabe, France
"لفقيد الفن خليل الصليبي", AUB Alumni Club, Beirut, Lebanon
معرض الفنانين اللبنانين في المتحف الوطني, Beirut, Lebanon
معرض اللبناني الوطني الدائم, مدرسة الصنائع و الفنون, Lebanon
Paris Salon, Paris, France
Foire de Beyrouth, Beirut, Lebanon
Awards And Honors
The Fold Medal of Edinburgh Salon for his Venus de Milo
The American University of Beirut Art Galleries, Beirut, Lebanon
Ramzi and Saeda Dalloul Art Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon
The collection of Beiteddine Palace, Beiteddine, Lebanon
Kamal Joumblat collection, Lebanon
Hala and Saleh Barakat collection, Lebanon
Lebanese Ministry of Culture, Collection, Beirut, Lebanon
Art From Lebanon. Modern and Contemporary Artists 1880-1975
Nour Salame Abillama & Marie Tomb
Wonderful Editions, English, 2012
Excerpt from book pp. 42 to 51
Cent Ans d'Art Plastique Au Liban I. One Hundred Years of Plastic Arts in Lebanon I
Chahine Gallery, English, Arabic, French, 1982
Excerpt from book p. 3
Le Portrait A Travers La Peinture Libanaise
Grenier Des Artistes, French, 1972
Regards sur la peinture au Liban
Joseph Abou Rizk
ALBA, French, 2012
Excerpt from book pp. 19, 20
حديقة ضيوف الفن الإنطباعي اللبناني
Galerie d'art Bekhazi, Arabic, 1993
Excerpt from book pp. 45-46-47-92
روّاد من نهضة الفنّ التشكيلي في لبنان
Maha Azizeh Sultan
USEK, Arabic, 2006
Excerpt from book pp. 254 to 268
Bonhams to Hold First-Ever Sale of Lebanese Modern Art
blouinartinfo.com, English, 2016
A Time of Gifts
frieze.com, English, 2012
AUB acquires Saleeby art collection
dailystar.com.lb, English, 2012
L’AUB DOTERAIT BEYROUTH D’UN NOUVEAU MUSÉE
agendaculturel.com, French, 2012
عمر الأنسي الانطباعي الذي انتقل من الصحراء إلى بحر لبنان
alarab.co.uk, Arabic, 2016
خليل الصليبي... عودة التشكيل إلى صباه
aljarida.com, Arabic, 2013